Liquid Fire

Liquid Fire

Anthony Francis

May 2015 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-6-260

The Skindancer Series, Book 3

Our PriceUS$17.95
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Magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost is back—fighting a fire that may burn down the world.

For millennia, ancient factions of wizards have closely guarded the secrets of liquid fire—distilled from the blood of dragons and the magical key to unbelievably powerful spells.

Now, Dakota’s flirtation with a fireweaver while visiting San Francisco engulfs her in a magicial feud. Forced to defend herself with her masterwork, a powerful dragon tattoo, Dakota becomes the target of superstitious magicians who believe she’s summoned the spirit of a dragon . . . the first step in an incredibly dangerous spell that could create more liquid fire.

Soon, Dakota finds herself caught in a magical battle between ageless wizards desperate to seize the rapidly dwindling supply of liquid fire and fireweaver terrorists who’ll stop at nothing to keep every last drop of it for themselves.

Even if that means killing Dakota.

The race is on to find the truth about liquid fire, the secret behind Dakota’s magic tattoos, and the message hidden in the fireweaver’s secret codes—before the world goes up in flames.

Filled with spectacular magic, pyrotechnic action, and kinky romance, LIQUID FIRE is the action-packed third installment in the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series.

Epic Award winner Anthony Francis writes the Skindancer series while working on robots for "the Search Engine Which Starts with a 'G'."


"Liquid Fire immerses the reader into a fantastically vivid and detailed world of myth, magic and science. Francis just has a way of pulling the reader in and keeping us there to stay." -- Tometender,

"Thank you to the powers-that-be for the opportunity to be one of the first readers captivated by Dakota Frost and her magical tats. Addictive, sassy, sexy, funny, intense, brilliant." —Bitten By Books, on Frost Moon

"With Blood Rock, Anthony Francis’s Skindancer series becomes one of my favorites." —Book’d Out, on Blood Rock

"A great blend of magic and science that has me wanting to read the first two books in the series!” -- Jennifer Jamieson, Netgalley


1. Fire is Life


"Fire is life,” said Jewel Grace. "That’s why I want to summon a dragon.”

"Do... what?” I said, staring at the cute granola chick in the aisle seat be­side me as if she were a crazy person. The gypsy-chic Bohemian had caught my eye from the start of our flight out to San Francisco: wry, curvy, curly-haired—and, from the way she surreptitiously checked out not just my tattoos and my Mohawk, but my breasts, a probable lesbian—but for the first two hours, I’d no time for flirting. I’d been preoccupied comforting my newly adopted weretiger daughter on her very first airplane ride. After Cinnamon finally fell asleep, Jewel and I started talking, and she’d seemed sane, until now; but who knew what bad wires lay beneath that mass of copper curls? "I’m sorry, I thought you just said—”

"Fire is my life,” said Jewel, stretching out lithe arms, making her intricate leather and chainmail bracers jingle—and making my eyes follow the deft move­ments of her delicate hands. "I’m a professional fire magician, and I’m traveling the world, trying to summon a dragon.”

Jewel caught me looking and smirked—but then her eyes flicked to my bare, tattooed arms, gazing with delicious indecency at my masterwork: a vast tribal dragon, my totem animal, a glorious, colorful, intricate tattoo covering half my body.

Roused by her attention, the Dragon stirred to life, sliding over my skin like magic.

No, not just likemagic; my tattoos are magic.

My name is Dakota Frost, and I’m a Skindancer, a magical tattoo artist. My skin is a living canvas, covered from my shaved temples to my slender toes in a network of magical marks, powered by my beating heart, that project my inten­tions onto the world when I dance.

Which makes a cramped middle airline seat the worst possible place for six-foot-two me to lose control of a tattoo. The Dragon is a re-inked version of my masterpiece, but it never set right since I was forced to use it in a magical duel before the re-inking was completed.

As I squirmed, itsquirmed, empowered by the flex of my living canvas. My control was never the best—I quit my Skindancing training after learning to tattoo—and being crammed into an airplane seat made it tricky to keep my unexpectedly animated Dragon from squirming free.

As it slid over me, I became acutely aware that the beige tube around us was shooting through the air at seven hundred miles an hour, that beneath the dark blue carpet lay six miles of down... and that in that duel, I’d destroyed a reception hall with the half-finished design.

The last thing I needed was for the full Dragon to bust out at thirty thou­sand feet.

"Buh,” Jewel said, staring slack-mouthed as the tail of my dragon slid over my shoulder. She rubbed her eyes—then held her hand over her face, peering between two fingers. "Oh. My. God. I just said summon a dragon—and your tattoo came to life!”

I sighed. I take back what I said: the last thing I needed was to be sitting next to a crazy magician—the kind of woo-woo who just might decide she needed my Dragon to summon herdragon. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a crazy tried to harvest my canvas.

I know calling that "crazy” sounds a little harsh from someone with a liv­ing magic tattoo crawling over her skin—but there’s magic, and then there’s ridiculous. There’s a reason they call me the Skeptical Witch—I don’t swallow the lore of the magical world whole.

"Sorry, Miss Grace,” I said, pouring on my best Southern charm—which, frankly, isn’t much, because between a dad on the Force and a mom teaching Special Ed, I ended up closer to military brat than Southern belle. "You didn’t summon a dragon—it’s just a magic tattoo.”

"Oh, boo,” she said, leaning, peering at my skin. "But I’d never say just magic—”

"Fair enough,” I said, "but still... dragons went extinct before the dino­saurs.”

"Oh, I know,” Jewel said, eyes sparkling at me.

"Even the images of dragons we have are a muddle,” I said, finding it hard not to smile back. "Our movie-friendly wings and scaly image is largely from Tolkien, and our myths are a bad jumble of folktales and distorted recollections of the creatures called drakes—”

"Oh, I know,” she said again, her own smile growing.

"And drakes,” I said, "nothing against them, but they’re not really—”

"Oh, I know,” Jewel said. "Though... I do want to see the Drake Cage while I’m here.”

That stopped me for a moment. Drakes are some of the world’s most magi­cal creatures, granted fire and flight by the magical residue of dragons the same way my daughter was granted shapeshifting by the magical residue of... well, whatever the werekin precursor was.

Drakes might not be true dragons, but they were spectacular.

"Me too. Missed it on my last trip; my former girlfriend and I were... preoc­cupied,” I said, proud I’d smoothly slipped in two little bits of infor­mation about my dating availability. I lifted my shoulder slightly. "Still... this is as close to a dragon as you’re likely to get.”

Jewel blinked, then smiled. "Oh, don’t say that,” she said, reaching out to gently touch the Dragon as it rippled over my skin. I felt a quiet thrill at the unexpected contact, then an electric charge as the tip of the tail accelerated under her fingers, sliding out of sight.

"I was going to say ‘don’t do that,’” I said, "but I think she likes you.”

Jewel looked at me, mouth quirking up into a pleasant wry smile. Her eyes flicked to my arm, tracing the elaborate tattoos that were slowly shifting back into position—green tribal vines shimmering, red roses rippling in bloom, and sparkling in the design, tiny purple jewels.

"Good,” she said, turning forward, smile struggling to grow broader, even as she flushed slightly with—was that embarrassment? How cute! Then she said, "Not to diss the spirit of your dragon, but when someone says a thing likes something, they normally mean they like—”

"Yapping fuckers,” barked my daughter—loud enough to make Jewel blanch. I gave Jewel a faint smile and turned to comfort Cinnamon, who was leaning against the window, holding her own tail, muttering, "Oh, when do—fahh!—when do we lands?

I sighed and smiled, watching my beautiful daughter, my beautiful weretiger daughter, my beautiful, adopted, lycanthropic Tourette’s-challenged brainiac teenager suffering through the last stages of an airplane flight, holding her own tail like a stuffed animal.

"It’s all right, baby,” I said, scratching her blue bandana; she shuddered, grip­ping her tail tighter, her head snapping a little in her sneezy Tourette’s tic; I was so glad that I hadn’t let her take this trip alone. "The captain announced the landing while you were asleep.”

"I’m sorry, Mom,” she said. "I didn’t mean—fah!—to mess up your flirt­ing.”

I smiled, a little embarrassed myself now.

Cinnamon and I have the same last name, the same silver collars, and simi­lar magical tattoos, but there the similarities end. I’m a smart aleck; she has Tourette’s. I’m tall, leggy, and Mohawked; my adopted daughter is short, wiry, and crams her orange hair under a blue bandana. I dress edgy to stand out; Cinnamon dresses like a schoolgirl to make people overlook her twitching cat ears and flicking banded tail. I chose my intricate tattoos to achieve a whole library of magical effects; Cinnamon’s bold tiger tattoos were imposed on her by a backwoods graphomancer to grant partial invisibility—which, paradoxi­cally, makes her stand out more, since when she’s not invisible, her tiger stripes cover her face.

I don’t want to sugarcoat it; in modern America, where practicing magi­cians have talk shows and full-blooded vampires are hits on cable TV, werekin­dred still get the shit end of the stick. Cinnamon had been a street cat, ware­housed, borderline abused, and I was happy she’d let me adopt her, gratified she’d taken to school so well, and enormouslyproud my little genius won a math prize which included a trip to San Francisco—but there was no way I’d make a vampire-collared werecat with stage fright go through post-9/11 airport secu­rity all by herself.

Or, for that matter, let her go into enemy territory alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love San Francisco, and not just because it’s a LGBT mecca. It had a warm place in my heart from my first grownup vacation with my first childhood girlfriend, who’d left more than a few warm spots on my bottom at the dungeon of one of its fetish clubs. It held a new fascination for me as one of the few places in the United States that had a dojo for my favorite martial art, the obscure Okinawan karate called Taido. Heck, it might become a new destination for me; my childhood friend Jinx was going to move out here when her husband Doug graduated; they were finishing up their honey­moon in San Francisco right now.

But San Francisco was notAtlanta. It might not literally be enemy terri­tory... but there was no magical shield protecting San Francisco like the magi­cal Perimeter of Atlanta. There was no truce between vampires, werekin, and magicians in California like the mystical Compact of Georgia. There was no authority to prosecute rogue magicians in the Bay Area like Atlanta’s Magical Security Council—which I myself had created and been roped into leading.

San Francisco was the magical Wild West.

We were flying into a city where magicians and werekin and vampires were at each other’s throats... and I was a magician, with a weretiger daughter, both wearing the silver collars of the Lady Saffron... the Vampire Queen of Little Five Points.

What could possibly go wrong? All I had to do was beat sense into a whole Conclave of truceless magicians, werekin, and vampires who’d been at unde­clared war for a century and a half. The Wizarding Guild actually seemed inter­ested in what I was doing with the MSC, so, if I was lucky, they wouldn’t kill us; and, if I was very lucky, maybe I’d collect some new allies.

With that little task out of the way, Cinnamon would be free to collect her award—and, if I was very, verylucky, I’d be free to collect on a debt. San Francisco wasn’t just the home of the Wizarding Guild; it was also the home of Alex Nicholson, my contact with the Guild, a good friend who had put his life on the line for me... and a man who owed me a million bucks.

OK, technically Alexdidn’t owe me that million; he had just inherited the leadership of the Valentine Foundation, which owed me that million for besting its late founder in a magical challenge he thought he couldn’t lose—and, there­fore, never thought he’d have to pay.

I closed my eyes with a sigh, then opened them to see Cinnamon’s long bony fingers gripping the arms of the seat. "Oh, for the love, little girl,” I said, putting my hand over hers and rubbing it warmly—then with that hand trapped, I leaned in, free hand poking at her huge ear. "Statistically speaking, it’s the safest—my, are you getting ear mites again?”

"Mom!” she said, ducking away as my finger caught the tufts of hair. Cinnamon started swatting at me with her free hand, and as I continued to probe, she tried to get her other hand loose—but while she had more strength, I had more leverage. "Don’t pick at it—”

And then the tires met the tarmac, and we were down.

"Mom,” she said, as I released her hand after one last squeeze. She half smiled, half glared, holding her hand, ear twitching something fierce. "Meany,” she said, screwing her knuckle in her ear; she never used the claws on anything delicate. "Big old meany—”

"Distracted you, didn’t I?” I said, leaning back in the seat. I heard a chuckle, and looked over to see Jewel smiling. I smiled back, a little forced, still unsure of whether there was real interest there or she was just an irrepressible flirt. "What?”

"Nothing,” she said, covering her smile with her hand.

After crossing the country at seven hundred miles an hour, the plane crossed the tarmac at a crawl. Everyone pulled out their cell phones; even I dug out my smartphone. I called the Lady Saffron, far up in First Class, but she didn’t answer. Jewel? She texted like a demon.

Then the arrival bell rang. Quick as a flash, Jewel hopped up and popped open a bin.

"I hate all this 9/11 nonsense,” she said, tugging at her jacket repeatedly, try­ing to pull it out from beneath a heavy, ancient Samsonite someone had jammed in to the overhead at the last minute. "I have to run all my gear through baggage claim—holy cow.”

I’d reached out over her head and lifted the Samsonite out of the way so she could free her jacket. Jewel glanced back at me and did a double take—even on large planes, I can usually bump my forehead against the roof if I stand tippy-toe.

Cinnamon made a little yelp, her tail apparently caught in a tangle of our un­buckled seatbelts. As I leaned to help her, a man in the opposite side stood and opened the bin. Soon, the aisle was filled with passengers unloading their bags, with Jewel two rows ahead of us.

I started forward to get her card or figure out how to continue the dragon discussion later, but irate passengers in the row ahead of me hopped up, and Cinnamon tugged at me from behind. With long arms, I scooped down our carry-ons while the row emptied.

When the logjam of passengers in front of us had cleared, Jewel was gone.

We tromped off the plane, wedged past impatient departees, passed rows of seats empty and full, and sailed out into the terminal. All the airports I had visited since I started the Council were starting to blur. All had the same blah décor—here, blue and gray patterned carpet. All tried to spice it with airport art—here, a giant driftwood horse. And all had an army of underpaid staff— here, Latinos and Asians, picking up after us wasteful consumers destroying the atmosphere with our travel.

Soon, I found the stairs to the baggage claim area, where once again I was next to Jewel.

"Surprise, surprise,” Jewel said, mouth quirking up a little.

"Fancy meeting you here,” I said, pulling Cinnamon’s bag off the carousel.

"Fancy that,” Jewel replied. A huge black bag, covered with stickers, thud­ded out of the conveyor and slammed down onto the carousel, and she began wedging her way with a litany of "excuse me’s.” The bag was passing too fast, so I reached in and pulled it out.

"Here you go,” I said. What wasit about this woman? I couldn’t resist try­ing to help her, trying to show off for her. I tried to steel myself, to play cool, then I caught Jewel staring at the muscles in my arms as I set the bag down. I flexed my bicep and said, "Show’s for free.”

"Oh, God,” she said, putting her hand to her forehead. "Sorry, thanks.”

"No need to be sorry,” I said, "and anyway, ‘sorry’ is normally my line.”

"Who’s your new friend?” asked an impish Southern belle voice from be­side us, and I saw Jewel’s head jerk aside to see the red-hair-black-dress- bon­net-and-bomber-goggles show that was the Lady Saffron—my ex-girl­friend. She looked Jewel up and down. "Adorable.”

"I... I,” Jewel said, eyes widening at Saffron, clearly not sure how to take her.

Saffron was a daywalker, making few concessions to her vampirism be­yond the goggles. The dark black cloth made her red hair stand out like fire, but it exposed her face and throat. Most people never guessed that she was the most powerful vampire in the Southeast.

But you couldn’t miss her entourage. Darkrose, Saffron’s consort, wore a dark, gray-hemmed velvet traveling hood that cloaked her almost completely. Beside her stood Vickman, her sharp-eyed, bearded bodyguard, quietly menac­ing in his black hat and bulky coat. Collecting the bags was Schultze, Darkrose’s human servant, a tall, swarthy, reserved man in an immaculate white suit with black patterned trim that echoed Darkrose’s robe. For those in the know, a hooded figure with matching attendant and hovering bodyguard just screamed "vampire.”

But I couldn’t tell if Jewel could tell. She looked at Saffron’s imperious black dress and regal red hair pouring out of her bonnet; then at the black leather catsuit beneath Darkrose’s Sith traveling cloak, then back at me, eyes lingering on the steel collar that symbolized I was under Saffron’s protection. Jewel raised an eyebrow; I returned the favor. Perhaps this curly-haired granola girl was into more devious forms of alternative culture than just magical firespin­ning.

Schultze leaned forward and pulled another bag off the carousel. "The last bag, ma’am.”

"Thank you, Schultze,” Darkrose said wearily. She was upright, but sag­ging to the point you could barely see her dark features beneath the hood; unlike Saffron, she was not yet a full daywalker and found the day not only dangerous but draining. "All we await now is Nyissa.”

"Another of your... friends?” Jewel asked, trying to subtly lift her head to peer inside Darkrose’s cloak—not looking at her features, but at the collar of her leather catsuit, barely visible beneath the hood of the cloak. "Is she coming on another flight?”

"No, she came on this one with us,” I said, smiling. I had been wondering how far we could push this without actually mentioning the word "vampire,” and now, I guessed, was it—I pointed at the traveling coffin coming out of the oversized baggage area. "Over there.”

"Oh, no, I’m sosorry,” Jewel said, face falling. Damn it, I hadn’t intended to make her think Nyissa was dead. But before I could explain, her phone buzzed and she pulled it out. "Hey, my ride is here. Nice meeting you, Mohawk Lady.”

"Great meeting you, Granola Girl,” I said.

And Jewel walked off, texting into her phone. Far, far down the terminal, I saw a young, short muscular man with spiky hair waving, and Jewel waved back. But rather than running to meet him, she stopped, wavered, dug something out of her bag—and walked back to us.

"I’m sorry,” she said. "I hate the whole ‘meet someone on the plane, have a nice conversation, then spoil it by passing over a greasy business card’ thing. I hate it when some slimy old businessman or lipstick lesbian does it to me. But after our conversation—”

And she handed over, not a business card, but a little postcard, a glossy lit­tle flyer for "Fireweaver’s Foray” at something called the Crucible. "We’re performing tonight,” she said, "so this may be too last minute. But it really sounds like something you’d enjoy.”

"Thanks,” I said, flipping it over. It was in Oakland, which, according to the directions, was on the far side of the San Francisco Bay. Huh—I always thought Oakland was a suburb of Los Angeles. Who knew? "No promises. We have a full schedule, and I don’t know if we can.”

Jewel smiled, and when she did so her eyes seemed to sparkle. "Great! See you.”

And then she strode off, texting into her phone as she went to join her friend.

"Did I not just say I probably wouldn’t make it?” I asked, watching her go.

"With your words,” Darkrose said, "but not your tone.”

"I heard it as ‘definitely make it,’” Saffron said. "Very clearly ‘definitely’.”

"Mohawk and Granola sittin’ in a tree,” Cinnamon said—then hissed. The last time she’d used that phrase, it had been "Cotie and Cally,” and Cally—Calaphase, my ex-boyfriend—wasn’t with us anymore. "Sorry, Mom. That was mean.”

"S’okay,” I said, rubbing her headscarf until it went crooked and she swat­ted at me. "Have to get over it sometime.”

"And tonight’s a good night to do it,” Saffron said. "We’re required to pre­sent ourselves to the Vampire Court of San Francisco, but you’re not welcome in their territory until invited—and I’m sorry, Cinnamon, that includes you too. You both wear my collar.”

"I knew it,” Cinnamon said, head snapping aside. "Nothing but trou­ble—”

"Cinnamon, you’re nevertrouble,” I fibbed. "Saffron, look... Doug and Jinx are staying in San Francisco. Are you seriously telling me that they’re safer there than we are because we’re wearing your collars? I thought these stupid things guaranteed us protection—”

"In Atlanta,” Saffron said. "But you’re not safe in San Francisco until we know that will be honored. That’s not just for your protection; it’s for ours. You both wear my collar—so to other vampires, you’re not just under my protec­tion—you’re my minions.”

"I am not anybody’s ‘minion,’” I said.

"But they don’t know that,” Darkrose said, raising her head, weary, but with an edge to her clipped South African accent. "And one powerful vampire bringing a formidable werekin and a very formidable witch into the territory of another could be considered an act of war.”

"You can stay at the airport hotel, or you can go have a night on the town,” Saffron said, folding her arms, setting her chin, making the locks of red hair pouring out of her bonnet look like the mane of a red lion. "But you can’t join us in San Francisco until you’re cleared.”

"All right, fine, a night on the town,” I said, rubbing Cinnamon’s headscarf. "Oakland looks like it could be only, what, a thirty minute drive or so? Let’s catch some dinner, then go see Jewel spin some fire. After all—wait for it—what’s the worst that could happen?”


"On the streets of Oakland?” asked a sharp voice. "You could die, Dakota Frost.”


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